Making the most of an ‘I’m sorry’

Posted 6/2/21

Parenting is a difficult job, an enterprise made tougher when the chemistry of multiple blood-related kidlets interacting within the same four walls turns combustible.

I’ve seen it happen a lot. …

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Making the most of an ‘I’m sorry’

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Parenting is a difficult job, an enterprise made tougher when the chemistry of multiple blood-related kidlets interacting within the same four walls turns combustible.

I’ve seen it happen a lot. My wife and I raised three children to adulthood. So many things about that experience were remarkable, but two things in particular never failed to astonish us:

1. Babysitters who cared for the kids at our house, or at their own, always, always marveled to us about how well-behaved they were. We always, always were incredulous at that bit of news, and, as parents who can’t possibly fathom their own being nice to each other, we’d wonder aloud who made off with our brood and replaced them with courteous, polite and mannerly replicas.

Which made #2 all the more vexing …

2. Put all three of our kids in the same room (or car, particularly) and let enough time go by, and chaos (and inevitably tears) often occurred. Drop that number to two, though — any two, the combination didn’t matter — and they paired off as best friends. Three = turbulence; two = tranquility.

Thankfully, today, our three — now ages 28, 26 and 24 — are close. No more fighting, name-calling, hitting or pestering. Rather, they’re mutually supportive, loving and gracious, and go out of their way when a brother (or sister) is in need.

What was our secret?

Danged if I know.

But one practice we insisted upon, I think, may have played a role: we taught our children how to apologize, and to do it the right way.

Apologies weren’t a matter of facing each other, uttering a grunted “SORRY!” under duress and then making up with a stiff side-hug. Figuring that unreasonable behavior was a problem of the heart, we focused there. Doing so gave the offender room (space and time) to look inward to think about the cause of the conflict and their role in escalation.

We knew we’d taught and trained them well; reflection on the matter at hand should, given the love we poured into them and a little time for an emotional re-set, result in enough self-reflection that awareness (and regret) would occur. The nurtured heart would come alive.

Here’s the kicker: next, the offender would have the responsibility of writing a letter of apology. We didn’t dictate the terms, but we insisted on two simple things: say WHAT you’re sorry for (specifics, please) and WHY you’re sorry. In writing.

Once delivered to the hurt party, then that child would have a chance to practice the art of forgiveness.

This process wasn’t always smooth. It happened with enough regularity, however, that my wife Lee Ann kept many of those little hand-scribbled notes of apology — including a few our children wrote to us for infractions we weren’t even aware of until said note was placed in our hands by a contrite child.

An ancillary benefit, of course, is that the principle was reinforced as we parents practiced what we preached. Not being a perfect dad, I’ve had a number of occasions (including one on a family trip back in April) to sit with Zachary or Addison or Karis and simply say: “I blew it. That was wrong of me. I’m so sorry. Can you please find it in your heart to forgive me?”

They always did.

We nurtured our kids’ hearts. Now they nurture each other’s. I can’t be more thankful to see their hearts flourishing still.

Bill Horner III can be reached at and on Twitter @billthethird.


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